The review of NATO air power conducted pursuant to the Wales summit communiqué and the subsequent February 2016 NATO tasking has set in motion an important two-step process to deliver a NATO air power strategy. Under this process, a conceptual basis analyzing ‘Ends and Ways’ will be considered in a first study. A second step due a year later will finalize the joint air power strategy by considering Means. As a result, NATO air power will be on an equivalent footing with NATO naval power, where a much higher profile effort to create and implement a NATO maritime strategy has been highlighted in recent summit communiqués.3
This article is one of several being prepared for NATO’s Joint Air Power Competence Centre and for ACT in support of this new air power strategy. It reviews the new directions set for the Alliance at the Warsaw Summit with regard to deterrence and collective defence. The footnotes at the end of each of the ten subtitles reference the provisions of the Warsaw Summit Communiqué that relate to that section. The essay further seeks to draw conclusions that will set priorities for NATO air power. This is one of two contributions made in this project on deterrence and defence. The other is being prepared by General (ret.) Frank Gorenc (USA AF). This article will focus in particular on the political and strategic issues raised at the Warsaw Summit.
Under these circumstances this article makes three key recommendations. Details can be found in each section and in the prioritization matrix at the end of this essay.
- The new NATO Joint air power strategy should be built around the notion that given current NATO ground troop deployments, air power provides the ability to enhance deterrence by convincing Russia that attacking the modest number of forward deployed ground forces will not give it an advantage that it can use following its strategy of attacking, pausing, and then suing for peace before NATO reinforcements arrive. To achieve this, the first task should be to significantly improve the readiness, deployability and sustainability of existing air forces and air bases. This includes a stronger commitment to Baltic Air Policing, higher level of pilot training, technical upgrades for existing aircraft, preparing air bases for forward operations, increasing munition stocks, maximizing multinational cooperation, and attaining overflight rights. This is the low hanging fruit that can pay quick dividends.
- The second task of a new NATO Joint air power strategy should focus on the increasingly difficult task of rapidly gaining air superiority in an Anti-Access / Area Denial (A2 / AD) environment. To achieve this, NATO / European air forces need to acquire adequate numbers of both fifth generation fighter aircraft and advanced standoff munitions. Political decisions relating to targeting and Rules of Engagement (RoE) will need to be made as far in advance as possible.
- The third task of a new NATO Joint air power strategy should concentrate on efforts to maximize the ability of NATO’s European air forces to operate with declining US participation. This may take many years, but interim goals should be set in the strategy. To implement this task NATO / European air forces should start to invest in enablers currently provided almost exclusively by the US like Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) assets, refuelling aircraft, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) and strategic lift.
Part I: Strengthening NATO’s Deterrence Posture
Part I of this article looks at the changing nature of NATO’s deterrent posture given current global trends and the role that air power needs to contribute to that posture. Section 1 looks at current global trends and their impact on deterrence. Section 2 reviews multiple phases of conventional deterrence and assesses the role of air power. Next, it reviews the role of air power in nuclear deterrence and the role of missile defences. Finally, it assesses the prospects for deterring cyber-attacks on the Alliance.
The Impact of Changing Strategic Trends on NATO Deterrence4
The July 2014 JAPCC Future Vector Project report contained an essay which highlighted eight global trends that, together, demonstrated the importance of air and space power for the NATO Alliance.5 Those eight trends continue today. Some of those trends have become more urgent and dangerous since 2014. Below are four trends, each related to one of the eight described three years ago, which will shape the strategic environment for future Alliance deterrence efforts. Together they may make deterrence more difficult to achieve.
A. Allied relations with Russia are in a downward spiral. The risks of Russian aggression described in the 2014 project report have magnified as Russia has annexed Crimea, fought Ukrainian forces in the Donbas area, fought with Assad’s forces in Syria against Western interests, practiced hybrid warfare against several of its neighbors, increased defence spending and modernization, accelerated nuclear intimidations and transferred nuclear weapons to Kaliningrad, strengthened its A2 / AD capabilities in the Baltic and Black Sea areas, interfered in US and West European political elections, and conducted snap exercises and air patrols that could result in dangerous incidents. The risk of conflict between NATO and Russia is at the highest point since the end of the Cold War. President Donald Trump’s desire to improve relations with President Putin and Russia could, conceivably, improve this situation but the costs to Western interests might be high.6 For example, the future of NATO enlargement, economic sanctions, and NATO missile defence might be on the negotiating table. Many in the US Congress and in Europe oppose President Trump’s initiative, and he is beginning to modify his policies in response. The negotiations will need to be approached with planning, caution and partnership consultations. If they succeed and Russia curtails its hostile activities, then the need for enhanced deterrence may decline. Alternatively, if a new effort by President Trump at detente is not successful, then relations are likely to plummet even further and enhanced deterrence will be more important than ever.
B. Challenges from the south are becoming more dangerous and are difficult to deter. The 2014 report projected dire Malthusian trends7 for the Middle East. Those negative trends continue and are impacting Europe directly. Civil wars continue throughout the greater Middle East, with major conflicts continuing in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Egypt’s Sinai and Somalia. But now, Europe’s security is increasingly affected by these conflicts as several million refugees head north and (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)-inspired terrorist operations consistently hit European cities and, in particular, in Belgium, France, Germany and Turkey.8 NATO has varying degrees of involvement from Operation Resolute Support in Afghanistan, to training missions in Iraq, to support for anti-ISIS air operations in Syria. The fight against ISIS is slow but going well in both Iraq and Syria. In general, however, Western military involvement in the greater Middle East is shifting to lead nation and coalition operations that tend to place NATO in a minor, supporting mission. This may change when the fighting stops in Syria, Libya and Yemen and when Europe is called upon to support Stabilization and Reconstruction missions. While air power is being actively used in the war against ISIS, naval forces and local constabulary forces are the principal instrument used to deter piracy, the flow of migrants, and terrorist attacks. Looking to the future, it is unclear whether NATO nations have the political will to sustain the long term stabilization missions that will be needed to deal with the security effects of these Malthusian trends.
C. As challenges grow in the east and south, the United States may be a less reliable partner in providing deterrence for NATO. The 2014 report suggested that America was in relative decline. In the future it may also be an unreliable ally. The ‘America First’ slogan of President Donald Trump has an element of international retrenchment attached to it. Throughout his campaign President Trump threatened to withdraw America’s commitment to its treaty allies in Europe and Asia if they do not shoulder a larger portion of the defence burden. Trump has called NATO ‘obsolete’, in part because he believes the Alliance is not doing enough to combat terrorism. He has also been highly critical of the EU, calling it a consortium. After his inauguration, President Trump reversed course somewhat and talked about 100 % ironclad guarantees for America’s treaty allies.9 He plans to attend the May NATO summit in Brussels. But, doubts remain. European efforts, both national and through the EU, to spend more on defence is moving very slowly; the decline has generally been halted but reversing the trend to achieve the 2 % of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) defence spending goal may take the full decade allocated at Wales. President Trump appeared to invite some allies to develop their own nuclear capabilities rather than relying on the US. He has rejected US joint intelligence estimates about Russian meddling in the US election process. He does not see Russia as a significant threat to US interests. His values may clash with those of main stream Western Europe. The prospects for a new Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement look distant. It remains to be seen if he supports enhanced US and NATO forward deployment efforts agreed at Warsaw to deter Russia. President Trump’s transactional ‘art of the deal’ style seems to be to strengthen his negotiating position by taking extreme and unorthodox stances and moving from there. It remains to be seen whether these are indeed just negotiating positions and not new American policy. President Trump’s assertive policies towards China and North Korea could lead to circumstances in which American military forces would need to be deployed primarily to Asia, at Europe’s expense.
D. Europe appears ever more divided and incapable of deterring Russia in the east without strong US support. The 2014 JAPCC Future Vector project report suggested that Europe was complacent about security issues. That complacency may have been mitigated in Eastern Europe, but the divisions in Europe as a whole have become deeper. The tough message contained in the Warsaw Summit Communiqué concerning deterrence and Russian aggression hides a high degree of disunity within the EU and the NATO Alliance. The EU is fraying if not imploding due to the Euro crisis, the migration crisis, and the resulting rise in populism. Brexit may be just the first element in the dismemberment of the EU and a re-nationalization of Europe. Right wing populist parties often supported by Russia are on the rise throughout Europe. Public opinion polls show alarmingly low public support for the common defence of the Baltic Area, especially in Mediterranean countries. In a sense, the low dissolution of the ‘European Project’ may cause Russia to continue with political pressure but avoid military actions which could re-unite Europe. Things are going Russia’s way. But, Europe cannot count on modest Russian behavior. Europe must renew its deterrence efforts, not just to show unity in the face of Russian aggression, but to convince the US that it is making a credible contribution to the common defence.
Conclusions and Recommendations
- Global trends have compounded NATO’s deterrence challenge in the past three years.
- To offset this concern, the Warsaw Summit sought to enhance ‘360 degree deterrence’.
- NATO’s air power is critical to war fighting in the south, but its deterrent role there is limited.
- NATO air power is critical to deterrence in the east; this is where NATO’s air power should be focused in terms of deterrence.
- Burden sharing has become a hot button issue in the US that Europe ignores at high risk to the Alliance. Failure to address this issue could make the US an unreliable partner.
NATO / European air forces are in a position to both demonstrate greater burden sharing and to further enhance deterrence towards the East.
Enhancing Conventional Deterrence Towards the East10
Russia’s operations in Georgia and Ukraine, and its use of brutal tactics in Syria, have raised fundamental concerns in Eastern Europe about Russia’s willingness to use force, either overtly or covertly, to seize vulnerable portions of the NATO area.11 While NATO spends about ten times as much on defence as does Russia, Moscow would have some important advantages relating to timing, geographic proximity, and will, especially in the Baltic area. Scenarios abound in which Russia would seize territorial advantage using ambiguous means and then threaten nuclear strikes should their advantage be reversed. Therefore, NATO now places a new emphasis on deterrence.
Despite the four trends discussed above, NATO has taken important steps at both the Wales and Warsaw Summits to strengthen conventional deterrence in the East.12 This has taken place in steps. Significant progress will have been made if current deployment plans are sustained. But many analysts still question if NATO can have a credible deterrence without being able to deny a potential enemy the ability to take and hold NATO territory.
One might consider various stages of conventional deterrence in Europe today, starting from the lowest level. NATO has been slowly moving to higher levels of deterrence. NATO air power can play a significant role, especially in progressing from deterrence by forward presence to deterrence by mobilization and assured punishment.
A. Deterrence through detente: After the end of the Cold War, NATO saw Russia as a potential strategic partner. The 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act and the NATO-Russia Council established a new relationship of detente under which a deterrent posture was thought unnecessary. That began to change following Russia’s invasion of Georgia and coalesced at the Wales Summit. For example, Baltic Air Policing mechanisms were created. But, deterrence was not NATO or US policy as evidenced by continued defence cuts and the withdrawal of two American Brigade Combat Teams (BCT) from Europe. During this period, NATO air power was focused primarily on out-of-area missions and not on deterring Russia.
B. Deterrence through reassurance: At the Wales Summit, NATO took steps to reassure its Eastern Allies that Article 5 was credible. The rhetorical emphasis was still on reassurance rather than Cold War notions of deterrence. The means of reassurance rested with the creation of a Readiness Action Plan which included a new 15,000 person Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) which would be postured to move to a conflict area within about a week. The 45,000 person NATO Response Force (NRF) was also enlarged to reinforce the VJTF. Materiel would be forward deployed to equip reinforcing units. On its own, the US deployed one Army company in each of the Baltic States and in Poland as a stop gap measure. NATO air power was adjusted to support the VJTF and the NRF.
C. Deterrence through resilience13: The Wales and Warsaw Summits also emphasized national resilience as an antidote for Russian hybrid warfare. The notion was that a nation that could resist political, economic, asymmetric, cyber and limited military attacks would provide a degree of deterrence, since conquering or destabilizing that nation would be difficult. In Warsaw, national resilience requirements and guidelines were agreed to. NATO also agreed to help individual allies to enhance resilience. The role of NATO air power in this form of deterrence is quite limited to perhaps supporting national forces.
D. Deterrence through horizontal escalation: Some NATO officials, when pressed, will suggest that Russia is deterred today because their vital interests would be damaged should NATO pursue horizontal escalation in another theatre. For example, if Russia were to attack a Baltic State and NATO is unable to retake that territory in a timely fashion, NATO might initiate military action elsewhere, where Russia is weaker. It might conduct a naval blockade, or massive economic sanctions, or launch cyber-attacks that could destroy the Russian economy. NATO air power might play a significant role in putting Russian assets at risk as part of a horizontal escalation strategy. Similarly, US Air Force Chief of Staff General David Golden recently stated that the US should play chess not checkers, meaning that it needs to respond not just in theatre but globally.14
E. Deterrence through forward presence: After the Wales Summit, it became clear that rapid reinforcement of relatively small NATO units would be late and lack adequate fire power. Russia might be able to deter that reinforcement by making it clear that the VJTF would be soundly defeated. So, additional measures were needed and taken at Warsaw. Four NATO multinational battalions (about 1,000 soldiers in each) will be forward deployed (led by the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada), one in each of the Baltic States and in Poland. NATO Force Integration Units (NFIU) were also forward deployed to organize reinforcement of these battle groups. The US will also deploy a BCT forward on a rotational but continuous heel-to-toe basis. Deterrence in this case will rest on the assumption that these units would be engaged in conflict with any invading armies and that several nations would take casualties, forcing those nations to commit and escalate. This is a capable force that could engage in combat, not just act as a trip-wire. Hence, many believe, an aggressor would be deterred. Critics argue, however, that these battle groups and the US BCT would be soundly and quickly defeated by a major Russian force and, therefore, do not offer adequate deterrence.
F. Deterrence through mobilization and assured punishment: The next step in deterring Russia should be to make it clear that reinforcements would include not just the VJTF and NRF, but large numbers of national follow-on-forces. Those forces would be able to retake lost ground and would punish Russia for its aggression. Defence cuts, however, have left most European militaries dramatically reduced with a low state of readiness for such operations.15 US forces are also not postured for rapid reinforcement. Today it could take many months to reinforce NATO’s forward deployed multinational battle groups with adequate ground forces to roll back an invasion. The pause in fighting while waiting for reinforcements might be seen by Russia as an opportunity to sue for peace before major conflict begins. That opportunity for success for Russia would weaken deterrence. Reversing this and attaining a higher degree of deterrence will require a significant improvement in the readiness, deployability and sustainability of all NATO forces.16 This is where NATO air power can play its most significant role in deterring a Russian attack on NATO territory. By improving NATO’s ability to achieve air superiority17 over contested Alliance territory in a timely fashion, Russian ground forces would become vulnerable to constant attack.18 The pause in fighting that Russia might count on would be negated in part by air power. A delay in NATO ground force reinforcement would become less important. This might also be called ‘deterrence by continuous response’. Achieving this, however, would require NATO air forces to make ineffective Russia’s A2AD capabilities, especially in Kaliningrad which would raise the risk of further escalation.
G. Deterrence through denial: This is the gold standard for deterrence. The RAND Corporation in 2014 / 2015 conducted a series of war games designed to determine the results of conflict in the Baltic area that started with current assumed force levels.19 In their scenarios, NATO air forces had 18.5 squadrons at their disposal20 and Russia had 27 squadrons available. The asymmetries in ground forces were even greater. The key conclusions of the series of RAND games were:
- ‘Across multiple games, using a wide range of expert participants playing both sides, the longest it has taken Russian forces to reach the outskirts of Tallinn and Riga is 60 hours.
- Because the Russian Air Force is sufficiently powerful to resist NATO’s quest for air superiority for multiple days, the Red team was able to create “bubbles” in space and time to launch massed waves of air attacks against this NATO force.
- Such a rapid defeat would leave NATO with a limited number of options, all bad.
- Having a force of about seven brigades, including three heavy armored brigades – adequately supported by air power, land-based fires, and other enablers on the ground and ready to fight at the onset of hostilities – might prevent such an outcome. (This would require an increase of about 4 BCTs above the force level currently available for an initial Baltic conflict.)
- This relatively modest force (of seven BCTs including three heavy) is not sufficient to mount a forward defence of the Baltic States or to sustain a defence indefinitely. It is intended to keep NATO from losing the war early.
- A successful defence of the Baltic States will call for a degree of air-ground synergy whose intimacy and sophistication recalls the US Army – US Air Force ‘AirLand Battle’ doctrine of the 1980s.
- Preventing a quick Russian victory in the Baltic States would also require a NATO Command Structure (NCS) able to plan and execute a complex, fast-moving, highly fluid air-land campaign.’
Forward deploying these additional ground forces together with related air defences is financially feasible given the stakes.21 But, the political support for this increased level of forward deployment and deterrence does not appear to exist except in Eastern Europe.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The principal role for NATO air power in deterring Russia conventionally may be convincing Moscow that a quick victory over forward deployed NATO ground forces would not end the conflict quickly on Russia’s terms.
Punishment and retaking of occupied land would be sure to follow because air power will continue the fight while ground forces mobilize. If NATO air power can convince Moscow that it is taking steps to gain air superiority rapidly and to apply precision strike against occupying forces, then Russia should conclude that it could not use a pause in the fighting to consolidate its positions in occupied territories and sue for peace on their terms.
What would it take to convince Moscow that NATO air power has this capability and will? The short-term priority list might include:
- Meeting and improving the NATO air forces ‘deployability and sustainability’ goals (upwards from 40 % and 8 % respectively).22
- Assigning national air forces to specific air superiority and ground attack missions.
- Preparing air bases to conduct forward operations.
- Deploying cruise missile defences forward.
- Exercising for the A2AD environment.
- Developing and deploying more effective Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD) munitions, anti-armor munitions, and area munitions; and stockpiling these in theatre.
- Improving digital links between F-22s, F-35s and other platforms that can attack A2AD targets.
- Conducting scenario-based discussions in the North Atlantic Council (NAC) with regard to the risks inherent in attacking Russian A2AD assets in Kaliningrad.
Sustaining Nuclear Deterrence23
Measures to enhance NATO’s conventional deterrence are hard to separate from nuclear deterrence. During the Cold War when the Soviet Union had conventional advantages, NATO used the threat of nuclear escalation as a balancer. Now that NATO has conventional superiority, except in certain regional contexts, Russia takes a similar position. In both cases, these declared policies have tended to connect conventional and nuclear deterrence.
Russia has recently doubled down on its nuclear policies. They have developed a policy of ‘escalation to deescalate’ which threatened first nuclear use. They may have violated the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. They are modernizing non-strategic nuclear weapons, where they have a significant advantage over NATO’s deployed forces.24 They have sought to intimidate allies with nuclear threats. And they have apparently moved nuclear tipped non-strategic missiles to Kaliningrad to underline those threats.
The Alliance has developed a formula for nuclear weapons that was originally outlined in the 2010 Strategic Concept and elaborated in the 2012 NATO Deterrence and Defense Posture Review.25 The Review concluded that:
- ‘Nuclear weapons are a core component of NATO’s overall capabilities for deterrence and defence.
- The circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be used are extremely remote.
- As long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance.
- The supreme guarantee of the security of the Allies is provided by the strategic nuclear forces of the Alliance.
- Allies concerned will ensure that all components of NATO’s nuclear deterrence remain safe, secure, and effective.
- NATO will develop concepts for how to ensure the broadest possible participation of Allies concerned in their nuclear sharing arrangement.’
During the 2016 Warsaw Summit, these policies have been augmented by a new declaration which states that ‘any employment of nuclear weapons against NATO would fundamentally alter the nature of a conflict’. This is intended to make clear to Russia that nuclear intimidation will not be tolerated and that first nuclear use would not necessarily lead to the de-escalation that Russia desires.
Now NATO must take steps to make that new declaration viable. This does not necessarily mean increasing NATO’s current nuclear inventory, nor does it mean forward deployment of NATO’s nuclear stockpiles, though some have suggested both ideas. Those suggestions would be contentious and could unravel the NATO nuclear consensus. In the realm of regional nuclear deterrence, the number and types of weapons on each side are of less importance than the fact that that a safe, secure, and reliable deterrent exists in theatre. But, these new developments do mean that a continued NATO nuclear presence in Europe is vital, absent a negotiated reduction.26 The five nations who host US nuclear bombs27 and the countries who have a dual-capable aircraft delivery mission will need to reaffirm those commitments.
Conclusions and Recommendations28
The need for nuclear deterrence is back. To stabilize the balance and assure that NATO’s doctrine can be implemented, the following recommendations are suggested:
- make clear to the European as well as North American public why nuclear deterrence remains a vital element of the security of NATO and their societies;
- make sure that nuclear storage facilities in Europe are safe and secure;
- maintain and, as needed, modernize the existing modest B-61-based nuclear deterrent deployed in Europe;
- maintain and modernize Europe’s aging dual-capable aircraft delivery capabilities;
- exercise potential responses to Russian nuclear threats; and
- seek ways to integrate France more directly into NATO nuclear planning efforts.
Developing an Appropriate NATO Ballistic Missile Defence29
There is a close relationship between deterrence and missile defences, though they are not the same thing. If NATO missile defences are effective, any nation seeking to attack the Alliance with missiles would risk ‘wasting their shot’ and still face NATO retaliation. So, effective theater and Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) defences, both, contribute to deterrence and NATO air and space power is critical to its success.
The Warsaw Communiqué reiterated the basic purpose of NATO’s missile defence initiatives, noted that they are on track, including voluntary contributions from allied nations, and reinforced the Alliance’s longstanding position that these strategic defences are ‘not directed against Russia’.30 Phase I and II deployments have been completed and Phase III is on schedule for Poland in 2018. The Heads of State and Government (HOS / G) declared at the Warsaw Summit that Initial Operating Capability (IOC) had been achieved and that BMD C2 was being transferred to NATO. This relatively positive consensus assessment of the programme’s trajectory, however, masks several emerging strategic issues which could affect the programme’s direction.31 Those issues are discussed below.
H. The changing threat from Iran. The 2015 Iran Nuclear Framework Agreement reduced the risk of Iran deploying nuclear-tipped missiles over the next decade, but it did not limit Iran’s missile capabilities which continue to grow. That fact has allowed consensus to lag behind the current pace of NATO’s missile deployment plans. Under President Trump, however, the Iran deal may be at risk. Should the deal collapse, Iran’s nuclear programme would likely resume and accelerate. At that point, NATO would need to decide how to proceed. On the one hand, should a Trump Administration be blamed in Europe for scuttling the deal, developing a new consensus might be contentious. On the other hand, the tensions surrounding an accelerated Iranian programme might require a more robust missile defence programme, including deployment of more interceptors and reconsideration of the termination of European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) Phase IV (see next page).
I. Defending against an enhanced Russian short range missile threat. Russia’s effort to create an A2AD zone in northeastern Europe and beyond and its efforts at nuclear intimidation both include missile deployments. Russia has recently announced the deployment of its nuclear capable Iskander ballistic missiles to Kaliningrad.32 The need exists to optimize an Integrated Air and Missile Defence (IAMD) capability to deal with Russia. As it optimizes this capability by upgrading the NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence System (NATINAMDS), NATO needs to make clear that its intent is not to threaten Russian ICBMs and, thereby, destabilize the strategic nuclear balance.
J. Continuation of the INF Treaty. Current plans for NATO’s missile defences assume that the INF Treaty will remain in force. Questions have been raised about Russia’s compliance with that treaty. Should either side abrogate the INF Treaty, NATO’s missile defence problems would rapidly multiply. Current NATO missile defence plans would have to be reconsidered.
K. A deal with Russia on missile defence cooperation? At the other end of the spectrum of relations with Russia, it is possible that one element of a Trump Administration effort to normalize relations with Russia would involve a credible agreement on Ballistic Missile Defences (BMD). Unilateral US abrogation of the ABM Treaty is a major Russian grievance. The Warsaw Communiqué states that NATO remains open to discussion of missile defences with Russia, ‘subject to Alliance Agreement’. That effort might include limits on NATO missile defence deployments and / or arrangements which might give Russia some degree of control over cooperative missile defences.
L. The Future of Phase IV. In March of 2013, the US announced that it would terminate Phase IV of the EPAA. Phase IV would have developed and deployed the Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) Block IIB system which was intended to have an anti-ICBM capability. Both technical and political considerations apparently went into this decision. Some saw this as a US concession to Russian concerns about their ICBM vulnerability. As a result of this US decision, the NATO missile defence approach no longer defends the US. At the same time, and to compensate, the US anti-ICBM capability against smaller powers was strengthened by increasing the number of Ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs) to be deployed from 30 to 44. The GBI deployment would be most effective against North Korea. Should the Iranian nuclear threat become real again, and should technical problems with the proposed SM-3 Block IIB be correctable, then the US might reconsider cancellation of Phase IV.
M. Coverage for European partners? The Warsaw Communiqué states that the purpose of NATO’s missile defences are to protect the ‘population, territory and forces’ of NATO countries. Given the ever closer relationships being formed between NATO, Sweden and Finland; given the unpredictable nature of missile attacks and given the fact that MOUs exist on military cooperation between NATO and these two countries, at some point NATO and individual NATO nations may need to face the question whether NATO nations will defend these two countries it they are attacked by enemy missiles, and under what circumstances.
N. European contributions to NATO missile defences. Europe contributes to NATO missile defences in several fundamental ways: they host radar and missile facilities, as well as Aegis ships’ they escort US Aegis ships armed with Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs); they provide some BMD missiles of both European and US origin, and now, as a result of a decision taken at the Warsaw Summit, NATO as an organization, will take over the Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence (ALTBMD) C2 system. Procedures and RoE will need to be refined. As the US focuses more on European burden sharing, maximizing Europe’s contribution to what is essentially a US-provided capability will be particularly important.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Remarkably, a consensus still exists for the three phases of NATO’s ICBM defence system despite the reduction of the nuclear threat from Iran which originated the programme. While development of NATO’s BMD system still seems to be on track, a number of pending strategic issues could profoundly affect the programme’s future direction. Perhaps the single most important of these factors is NATO’s future relationship with Russia. Given current trends, NATO is currently faced with the military need to develop a stronger integrated air and ballistic missile defence system.
- As NATO contemplates the future direction of its missile defence system, it will be important not to lose the political consensus that has enabled it.
- NATO needs to make Command and Control (C2) of its strategic BMD a top operational priority.
- European nations need to maximize their individual contributions to NATO inventory of missile interceptors.
- NATO needs to strengthen its IAMD capabilities.
Enhancing Deterrence in the Cyber Domain33
The scope of cyber-attacks is quite broad, ranging from nuisance and criminal intrusions, to interference in Western democratic processes, to attacks on defence industries, to attacks on national critical infrastructure, to attacks on military systems in peacetime and wartime. For example, the closing months of 2016 saw attacks on the Democratic Party in the US and on the electrical grid in Ukraine, probably both initiated from Russia.
The recent US Defense Science Board (DSB) study on cyber deterrence distinguishes between attacks made by major powers (Russia and China), regional adversaries (Iran and North Korea), and non-state actors.34 DSB director Craig Fields has noted that the US can defend against the lower level threats, but it must deter cyber-attacks launched from Russia and China.35
Cyber defences are imperfect. NATO networks and allied national defence establishments are under constant attack. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated recently that NATO facilities are hit with 500 cyber-attacks that require extensive intervention per month.36 These threats are aimed against both NATO policy making and its operational systems.
Responding to these threats over the past half-decade, NATO has begun to expand its focus beyond the narrow protection of Alliance networks. For example, it has established:
- a high level Cyber Defence Committee;
- a working level Cyber Defence Management Board;
- a Computer Incident Response Capability;
- a Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn;
- a NATO-Industry Cyber partnership;
- an Enhanced Cyber Defence Policy;
- that cyber-attacks can constitute an Article 5 attack (Wales);
- that cyber defence will be considered a separate domain (Warsaw);
- a national cyber defence pledge for the protection of national defence networks (Warsaw);
- an expanded cyber range (Warsaw).
In a recent paper for the Atlantic Council, Frank Kramer and his colleagues have suggested that allied nations identify which of their national military assets should have the highest priority protection and that the US become a NATO ‘framework nation’ for cyber defences, sharing more capabilities and approaches with its allies.37 Others have suggested the creation of a NATO cyber command that could centralize responsibility for both cyber defences and deterrence.38
The key to cyber deterrence is attribution and punishment. It is becoming clear (for example, with the evidence that Russia hacked the US Democratic National Committee) that attribution may take time but it is increasingly possible to identify the original attacker. The US DSB’s 2017 report on cyber deterrence stressed the need for ‘enhanced foundational capabilities’ in the area of attribution.39 Once proven, sanctions or other forms of punishment including retaliatory cyber strikes need to be swift and severe. If a state of cyber deterrence can be achieved, then it may be possible to negotiate enforceable cyber rules.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Cyber is a critically important domain for NATO air forces.
- A cadre of NATO European air force officers should be trained to lead the Alliance in this domain.
- Air power officials should also advocate for the creation of a separate NATO Cyber Command to focus the Alliances energies on this critical area. A senior NATO European air force officer might serve as its commander.
- Closer relations should be developed between US national and NATO cyber security operations.
Part II: Collective Defence
Part II of this essay examines various issues related to collective defence, should deterrence fail. The first section looks at the missions that NATO air forces would conduct in the East. The second section explores ways in which NATO might regain the conventional technological advantage that it is beginning to lose. The third section reviews the importance of early warning and rapid response in dealing with a conventional threat. The fourth section analyzes air power missions in dealing with the Southern threat. The last section addresses sharing the conventional defence burden and suggests a model for European NATO air forces.
Providing Collective Defence in an A2AD Environment40
Russia, like China, is building formidable A2AD capabilities that make gaining air superiority for US and NATO Air Forces more difficult. Former NATO SACEUR Wesley Clark recently observed that Russia and China are outpacing American military modernization efforts, especially in areas like air defence. He noted that Russia’s new air defence system is changing the ‘air-ground dominance where the United States could easily get air supremacy in the past’.41
The Warsaw Summit did re-focus attention on collective defence against this Russian capability. Should armed conflict break out in the NATO Area of Responsibility (AOR), several, primarily political, factors would determine the role of NATO air power. NATO officials should review these factors in advance to determine their impact on air operations. Those factors would include:
- Would Russia seek to keep the conflict localized? If Russia relies on non-conventional means and limits its own use of air power, then NATO would need to decide whether it would escalate and unleash its own air power or whether it, too, would seek to win by using only those forces that are in the region.
- Did NATO forward deploy enough ground troops, air defences, and prepositioned equipment? The previous discussion of deterrent options included various levels of forward-deployed NATO troops. If there is an adequate number of forces forward-deployed with their own air defences it would affect the mission of NATO air power. If there are only a few NATO battalions forward-deployed with inadequate integrated air defences, then providing air cover for those troops would become the top priority.
- Is it a NATO operation or a coalition of the willing? One assumes that this would become a NATO Article 5 operation, but that may not be the case. Individual allies have a national commitment to other NATO nations, even if the NAC does not declare an Article 5 situation to be in effect. If the operation becomes a coalition of the willing, the NCS and other NATO assets may not be available.
- What would the air power balance look like? If all NATO and Russian air assets were to be deployed at the outset, then NATO would have a clear advantage.42 But, US air assets are deployed globally and many European forces operate at low levels of readiness. If an adequate amount of US aircraft are not available, it might take NATO / Europe several weeks or more to gain air superiority over the Baltic region.
- Would the NAC give political authority for its air forces to attack A2AD sites in Kaliningrad and in Western Russia? Russia has the capability, using assets in Kaliningrad and in Western Russia, to make NATO air operations over the Baltic very difficult. Should Russia use these capabilities, then the NAC would need to decide whether to attack Russian territory and risk further escalation of the conflict, including escalation to the nuclear level. Without this NAC authorization, however, NATO ground forces in the region would be extremely vulnerable.
- Would Sweden and Finland cooperate? While NATO could probably win an air battle over the Baltic region without cooperation from these two Partnership for Peace (PfP) states, it would be much easier with their cooperation. Cooperation from Sweden would be particularly important.43 MOUs have been signed between NATO and these two non-aligned states outlining cooperation, but little has been done to prepare air bases in either country to accommodate NATO aircraft in time of conflict. In return, Sweden and Finland might require NATO air defences, and those air defences are unlikely to be available in a timely fashion.
- To what degree should NATO nations build stronger defences against conventionally armed cruise missiles? War games have shown that AWACS-supported Combat Air Patrols (CAP) using fourth generation fighters to deal with the cruise missile threat would need additional ground-based, Short-Range Air Defences (SHORAD) to be successful.
Should major conflict break out, then NATO air forces would need to take on the following five conventional missions:
- gain rapid air superiority;
- provide adequate ISR coverage over the battlefield area;
- provide C2 over the battlefield area;
- provide precision strike against ground targets; and
- provide mobility and lift to reinforce NATO ground forces.
Conclusions and Recommendations
To deal successfully with these five conventional missions, the following Air Force upgrades are judged to be particularly important:
- Large quantities of more capable SEAD munitions; specifically longer-range, high-speed radar-homing missiles to suppress SAM tracking and guidance radars.
- Adequate quantities of Small Diameter Bombs (SDB), including SDB II integration with advanced fighters.
- Some form of standoff, area anti-armor weapons.
- Means of conducting ISR in contested air environments (such as stealthy UAVs).
- Upgrade to Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars in 4th generation fighters (for improved effectiveness against cruise missiles).
- Improved defensive Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) gear for strike aircraft.
- Greater European independent lift capability.
- Ground based SHORAD systems against cruise missile attacks.44
- The eight items listed above are part of a broader list of priority shortfalls identified by NATO commanders.45
NATO air power officials need to coordinate very closely with Sweden and Finland to discuss use of their air bases in time of conflict, including required construction. In addition, these two nations need to acquire adequate air defence capabilities to protect their populations and their air bases.
Developing Third Offset Technologies to Retain Operational Superiority46
Russian and Chinese efforts to match US military technology have yielded some success, which has raised concerns about the A2AD problem. Russia for example, has developed new missile technologies, capable tanks, and near fifth generation fighter aircraft. Faced with this challenge and with tight defence budgets, the US has sought what Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work47 has referred to as the Third Offset. The First Offset was the Eisenhower Administration’s development of a strong nuclear capability (The New Look) to offset Soviet conventional advantages. The Second Offset was the development of precision strike weapons on stealthy platforms that enabled initial military victories in Desert Storm, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
The Third Offset is still very much a work in progress. As with any good military transformation, it seeks to gain advantage, not just with new technologies, but also with new operational concepts. The 2017 US defence budget requests $3.6 billion for research and development for Third Offset technologies, with a total of $18 billion requested over the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP). Those technologies include autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, greater human-machine interface, and use of a ‘combat cloud network’ to provide better situational awareness for US forces throughout the battlefield. One good example of a Third Offset approach is a recent Naval Air Systems Command exercise (designed in cooperation with the Strategic Capabilities Office) in which F / A – 18s dropped over 100 small Perdix drones which swarmed and adapted by communicating with other drones.48 Another example might be the US Air Force’s effort to develop brain-inspired computer chips that can automatically identify vehicles such as fuel tanks for anti-aircraft systems.49 It remains to be seen if the new Defense Secretary, James Mattis, will embrace this focus on the Third Offset.
US Air Force General (ret.) Larry O. Spencer believes that ‘the US Air Force will be front and centre of any offset strategy’. He added ‘with major investments to come in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, the B-21 Raider, F-35, GPS III, and KC-46, it is vital for the United States to have a strategy that combines these platforms with the C2 our commanders need to stay ahead of and meet the challenges of our enemies’.50
Conclusions and Recommendations
While these technologies may not have an immediate effect on NATO air operations, they will have a profound long-term impact. NATO’s ACT is already working with the US Defense Department to cooperate on Third Offset strategies.
- JAPCC and ACT should concentrate on the implications of the Third Offset for NATO air power.
- The European defence industry should be directly involved in these Third Offset discussions.
- NATO air forces need to quickly integrate these emerging technologies into operational plans.
Maximizing Early Warning and Rapid Response
NATO early warning and decision making capabilities in any conflict are likely to lag behind those of Russia. Russia will likely be the aggressor that can choose time and place, is an autocratic state with a single decision maker, and has regional geographic advantages. If the early warning and decision making gap grows too large, it could significantly impact the outcome of regional combat.
This fact was clearly recognized at the Warsaw Summit51. Steps were taken to improve Joint ISR and to create, at the political level, an Assistant Secretary General for Intelligence and Security. Some have suggested the creation of a NATO Intelligence Committee as a next step. The NAC has sought to improve its own decision making capabilities by holding ‘scenario based discussions’ to work their way through difficult political contingencies. But, more needs to be done. Former SACEUR Phillip Breedlove called for improved ‘indications and warning’ using all source intelligence, including imagery, signals, measurement and signature, human intelligence, open source intelligence, social science information, and cultural awareness. Declassifying information quickly will be important to inform the NATO public and build quick consensus.
In 2014, Dr. Charles Barry suggested that the following air power improvements would significantly enhance the readiness and sustainability of European air power.52 That analysis is still relevant.
- more standoff, Precision Guided Munitions (PGMs);
- greater Dynamic Targeting Capabilities;
- larger aerial refuelling capacity;
- more drones (both reconnaissance and attack);
- more deployable support for air operations;
- more medium to large helicopters, survivable and all-weather capable.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The role for NATO air forces, both national assets and NATO assets, is profound in the Alliance’s effort to maximize its early warning and rapid response capabilities. Air and space assets are principle collectors of intelligence: strategic, operational and tactical. Air power is also the first responder in most cases to an early warning alert. Several steps should be taken to assure that air power is contributing its vital role to early warning and rapid response. These steps include:
- NATO plans to focus Joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (JISR) assets on first responders (VJTF and NRF) need to be accelerated;
- Europe needs over time to reduce its dependency on US JISR.
- NATO AWACS modernization and operationalization of Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) capacity by 2017 need to be delivered.
- Readiness of European fighter aircraft and especially pilot training needs improvement.
- Legal obstacles need to be removed relating to overflight rights in time of conflict, including with Sweden and Finland.
- Back fit fourth generation fighters with AESA radars for cruise missile defence.
Dealing with NATO Southern Missions: the Role of Air Power53
The Warsaw Summit placed special attention on threats coming from NATO’s south. This was done for several reasons. Southern allies were concerned that NATO’s focus had shifted too much towards the east, where they see little direct threat to themselves. Second, the threats from the south have become more immediate and complex, with direct effects felt in the streets of major European cities (both refugee movements and terrorist strikes). And third, NATO does not have a clear southern strategy, where most military efforts are now being conducted by lead nations and coalitions of the willing.
Air Power in southern missions is paramount today. Ground force operations are being conducted increasingly by non-NATO, local forces, such as Iraqi and Afghan Army forces, and Kurdish or Libyan militias. Given the reluctance in NATO nations to deploy large numbers of ground forces post-ISAF, NATO ground forces will be limited primarily to advisory missions and Special Operations Forces. The naval missions in the south are limited to counter-piracy, some counter terrorism patrols, and interdiction of migrant flows. (That may change as Russian naval forces become more active in the Mediterranean and Black Seas). It is the air forces belonging to NATO nations, operating often as part of a coalition of the willing, that fight the battle against the Islamic State.
The intensity of these air operations has provided Allied air forces with valuable joint operational experience. For example in the air operations against ISIS, which started in August 2014, coalition aircraft have flow nearly 133,000 sorties which yielded over 17,000 air strikes that destroyed about 31,000 targets. Of the 17,000 air strikes, nearly 4,000 were conducted by America’s coalition partners. NATO nations that have participated in combat operations are: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Turkey.54
In April, 2017, the Trump Administration launched two US air strikes that have further enhanced the role of air power in NATO’s southern region. First, a US cruise missile attack was launched against Syrian air bases in response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against their own population. In this case air power was used both to compel and deter the Assad regime from further chemical use. Second, it launched a GBU-43 / B attack against Islamic State fighter in Afghanistan. This strike signaled American willingness to use larger munitions against terrorist targets.
While these experiences are vital to the future success of Allied air power, this southern experience against ISIS is different from the high intensity operations that might occur should deterrence fail in the east. Allied air power would need to adjust.55 These differences include:
- In the south coalition air forces have total air superiority; aircraft attrition would be much higher in the east.
- A high intensity war in the east would use munitions at a much higher rate than in the east.
- Nations such as Germany, Italy, Poland, and Spain have not participated in these recent combat operations.
- The command structure in the east would likely be NATO with EUCOM rather than CENTCOM as the American counterpart.
There are two additional aspect of southern operations highlighted by the Warsaw Summit that NATO air power will need to focus on.
First, the Warsaw communiqué stresses NATO deployment to the southeast and notes that efforts to strengthen Alliance naval and air capabilities in this region will be assessed. That may mean larger European air power deployments, possible in Bulgaria. Those deployments could support operations to the south and east.
Second, NATO will stress building the defence capacity and resilience of partner countries to the south. For European air forces, that may mean an enhanced advisory role in key partner states such as Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, and possibly Egypt.
Conclusions and Recommendations
In considering the role of NATO joint air power in southern contingencies, four recommendations stand out:
- Air power advocates should encourage the Alliance to develop a much clearer southern strategy which embeds the role of air power in it.
- Air forces need to adjust their operations from the southern missions (to which they have become accustom) to the much more challenging eastern missions.
- Air power deployments to the southeast, possibly in Bulgaria, are suggested in the Warsaw summit communiqué, and plans should be developed by NATO air forces.
- Air power officials should develop their contribution to the Alliances Building Partnership Capacity efforts in the south.
Managing the Burden Sharing Problem: Air Power’s Opportunity56
The Trump Presidency is likely to place a major focus on adjusting burden sharing disparities within the Alliance.57 Just fulfilling the Wales Summit’s NATO Defence Investment Pledges (DIPs) and the recent EU pledge to spend an additional Euro 5 billion in defence procurement may not be enough.58 Europe is beginning to turn the corner on defence spending, with an estimated 3 % increase in 2016. But that will be seen in the US as ‘too little, too late’. Europe needs to develop a plan to boost defence spending more dramatically as a way to keep the US fully committed to the Alliance.
This has been done in the past. European defence spending jumped fairly dramatically in constant dollars from $207 billion in 1970 to $286 billion in 1980.59 (European defence spending has remained just above this 1980 level during the past 35 years). The strategic environment that led to these significant defence spending increases included:
- a rise in the Soviet threats with interventions in Eastern Europe and SS-20 deployments;
- an American pivot to Asia (in Vietnam) followed by US retrenchment under President Jimmy Carter;
- amendments by Senator Mike Mansfield to cut US force levels from Europe if burden sharing did not improve; and
- reasonable economic growth in Europe.
Similar characteristics exist today. So, despite European protestations, Europe can and, in the past, has done better. In the realm of air power, European air forces are particularly dependent upon the US for SEAD, Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA), Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR), strategic lift, and PGM.60
Conclusions and Recommendations
European air forces need to position themselves to take advantage of the increase in defence spending. Providing lists of needed equipment and improvements such as those suggested above is important, but it is unlikely to result in air power receiving its adequate share. A better approach is to set a goal so that NATO / European air power can take care of missions in its own AOR, should the US be unavailable. NATO / European air power should, as a short term goal, be able to support one Small Joint Operation (SJO) air heavy, without the US.